Facebook plans aggressive outreach to allay fears of WhatsApp users

The government on Tuesday attacked Facebook for double standards on privacy policy — more stringent rules in Europe but relaxed ones in India
Social media behemoth Facebook is planning a major outreach to allay WhatsApp users’ fears over its updated privacy policy in the next few months, say sources. These include ad campaigns, interactions with large user group and stakeholders in the government. 

The messaging is clear: The updated policy is straight forward. The need to agree to it is limited to users’ communication with only the 19 million business accounts of WhatsApp. In only these cases the information sent by the user to the business or merchant WhatsApp can be leveraged for business purposes. That would include using it to run ads on the users’ Facebook or Instagram accounts. However, WhatsApp cannot share the content of any conversation between the two because all chats are encrypted. 

For example, a normal WhatsApp user could be sending a chat message to a business WhatsApp account asking them to share a catalogue of sarees. The business user could leverage this information by sending an ad showing the product on the WhatsApp user’s Instagram account. 

The government on Tuesday attacked Facebook for double standards on privacy policy — more stringent rules in Europe but relaxed ones in India — and asked it to explain this. Sources say Facebook’s updated terms of service are in consonance with laws.

However, Facebook cannot predict what further limitations will be put in place in India’s proposed data privacy Bill, which is still under discussion. The proposed law plans to incorporate some of Europe’s stringent privacy rules. Sources say WhatsApp’s Indian privacy terms are akin to those in the US. Those aware of developments say that WhatsApp has not seen any dent in its subscriber base (400 million), despite the controversy. But there is a clear trend of WhatsApp users also downloading competing apps (Signal and Telegram) that is reflected in the daily increase in their downloads.  

Facebook is also going slow on rolling out WhatsApp Pay — it is improving the interface and tying up with more banks. Those in the know say with the company being allowed to acquire only 20 million customers it will be a small player in the UPI payment business. So it is in no hurry to push for numbers, and is focusing on improving service delivery. 

At present, Phone Pe and Google Pay dominate the over 100 million UPI pay customer market with around 80 per cent of the transaction volume, with Paytm a distant third. Paytm founder Vijay Shankar Sharma, however, has been vocal in his opposition of WhatsApp’s privacy updates.

WhatsApp’s focus this year will be on consolidation, deepening reach of an array of products it launched last year like Reels on Instagram, a short video offering (after TikTok was banned). And, it is locking horns with many Indian apps like MX TakaTak and Josh, among others, that are amongst the top 10 in terms of downloads. It has helped Instagram grab over 120 million subscribers.

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